Saturday, July 11, 2009

Piatto Suzuki, Azabu Juban

Sometimes events make you question your life and the path you've been on. This was not one of those events. It DID, however, make me question the basis for Michelin ratings. Coming on the heels of an adequate but unenlightening Chez Tomo experience, the equally one-starred Piatto Suzuki was a pleasant and tasty but ultimately unsatisfying experience.

PS is tucked away on the 4th floor of a small building in Juban. I think it's a bit hard to find - no signage at street level - so I'll say this: it's opposite the Mon Loire chocolate shop, and more importantly the famous tai yaki place (as an aside, what's up with the wait there being 90 minutes?). Inside is equally secluded - 5 4-top tables plus a counter for about 6. It stayed fairly full while I was there, including some tables emptying and re-filling. The prevailing clientele seems to be 'professional', which is probably driven by the secret-hideaway atmosphere and more importantly the prices. (As another aside, I've decided once and for all that I don't agree with people who find it vulgar to include prices in their posts.) The service is trying to be professional, but has some weird elements. One waiter was wearing Chuck Taylors with his suit, and the white toes peeking out from his pants kept grabbing my attention. The staff also had a confidential communication system to allow them to tell each other things without the customers noticing (like, "Pour water for Table 2!"), but in practice the noises they kept making ("Fffft!!") were possibly more intrusive than just stating the instructions. And the waiter in Chucks took my wine order by listening, pausing a solid two beats, exhaling a little and saying "I see," which I imagine was meant to convey displeasure. Anyway, on to the food.

The menu is basically a la carte; there's a laminated page of specials from which I think you're encouraged to choose 4 courses for $100. There's a water charge of Y1000 regardless of what you ask for ('just regular water' in our case). There's a table charge of Y500 per person, which gets you a handful of excellent olives, an equal serving of decent pickles, and a basket of stale bread. Antipasti and pastas are mainly $20, which is a decent value. Mains are $50 and up, which I suppose reflects the luxury ingredients included therein, but seems excessive. The wine list is 'bullish', as they say, briefly flirting with Y7000 bottles before heading straight into the (Italian) stratosphere.

Prosciutto with persimmon was decent, but the ham was a bit dried and somewhat tasteless.

Cold cappellini was very nice - pasta done perfectly, good oil, totally delicious tomatoes. I wish I knew where to get tomatoes like this, but in the meantime I'm happy to pay the price for a dish like this. I'm NOT happy to pay the $90 for the version with caviar, however.

Veal (cheek?) ragu with wide noodles. A good ragu of a hard-to-find ingredient, with big gelatinous chunks of meat stewed to falling-apart-ness. Again, I wish I could make this at home and am happy to pay for it out. The speed of service on these two pastas made me wonder though, as it was reminiscent of the dryness of the ham.

This sea bass with mussels in leek sauce was OK, but due to the texture seemed a bit too 'home cooking' to me. The flavors were uninspired and seemed more like something that had been thrown together in the kitchen rather than working together or bringing something extra to the combination.

This Milan-style veal cutlet was nice. (I AM, it must be said, a sucker for veal, and tend to order it whenever I see it on a menu these days since those occasions are rare.) The meat was very good quality and especially flavorful for a veal. I have no idea what the two different cuts represented, but of course they were different in texture, color and flavor. The whole thing was a bit heavy on the breading and frying, which is perhaps how the Milanese like their cutlets.

As for desserts, the tiramisu was excellent due to a heavy hand with the amaretto. The frozen chocolate mousse was mediocre, as was the caramel ice cream. With no prices quoted on these, I suggested that coffee at another location might be more in order, and off we went.

With only Suzuki san and another guy in the kitchen, I can see that some corners need to be cut in order to keep service moving. The speed at which things emerged from the kitchen made me think there was a lot of pre-prep happening, and in fact we had to make a conscious effort to slow down in order not to finish within an hour. It felt rushed, and the odd notes hit by the servers did nothing to make us feel relaxed. The food had a lot of enjoyable elements, but was just too average overall to make me feel like I was getting value for the abundant money I paid.

Is this really Michelin-starred dining? I can recommend it to you, but only if you're the kind of banker or lawyer for whom the price is not so important.

I'm not that kinda girl.

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